Something is stirring in the belly of the economy
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Paul Zukowski provides a monthly economic report that gets past the boring stuff with a little humor and a lot of insight. His goal is to equip you with the economic analysis tools you need to help keep competitors from eating your lunch.
There are a few signs of things taking off in wrong directions in the U.S. economy this month:
- Sales of existing homes are up, but the supply is tight.
- The world is awash in cheap oil, so why conserve?
- And workers are getting harder and harder to find.
Then again, some things never change, such as the inability of economists to accurately predict monthly job gains — the Bloomberg survey expected 190,000 in February, while the reality was 235,000.
And then there's my favorite target, our venerable Federal Reserve banking system, which may or may not tinker with interest rates. Wait, we say that every month, it seems, and the speculation has become irritating — let me go on record as saying that interest rates are on the way up ... another 250 basis points?
Inflationary pressures are the real bugaboos. Let me say that again: Inflationary pressures are the real bugaboos. Runaway inflation can kill an economy and lead to dictatorial rule. When governments print too much money, they can't seem to stop adding zeros.
I don't see the U.S. going wild (keeping an eye on Greece, of course, and Venezuela going off the tracks). It's just good to remind ourselves why the study of economics matters — right up to the point of forcing life-or-death decisions in how we allocate limited resources.
OK, calm down. We need to have confidence in our economic system, because that can spur hiring, which can then bring workers who had given up hope back into the labor force. Average hourly wages rose 6 cents to $26.09 in February. This translates to an annual increase in wages of 2.8 percent — a seven-year high. For small businesses, that means hiring will just get tougher and tougher.
Even manufacturing added 28,000 jobs in February as U.S. factories bounce back from their prolonged slump thanks to increased international demand.
Finally, there's the stock market, now being called an aging bull. Dial back to 2009 when analysts say the market came back to life after the worst stock drop since the 1930s. Part of this new life came from the Fed, which kept injecting steroid-level stimulations of cheap money.
But I see most of it as an expression of confidence in the free-market system, a confidence that can, or course, be withdrawn as investors tire of chasing the bull and start playing with Bitcoin, that wonderful digital currency that operates without banks, credit-card issuers or other third parties. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently rejected an attempt to create an exchange-traded fund based on Bitcoin, but such a thing is coming, you can bet your bits on that.
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